Thursday, September 17, 2015

Parents, Children, and Entheogens

Today I will diverge from straight research mode to talk about some personal aspects of this situation.  As is usual with these huge topics, it takes me a minute to figure out where to start.  So I will brainstorm.  Here are some questions: How do you (and should you) talk to kids about your spirituality when it involves the use of an illegal substance?  What is the role of parents in raising their children according to their own spiritual beliefs?  Do parents have the right to introduce their children to traditions that use entheogens?  When is it/ IS it OK to invite your children to participate in an entheogenic ceremony with you?  Why or why not?   (At another time I also want to cover parents' legal rights - or lack thereof - in this area.) What kind of complex situations might be facing your children when they have to keep their parents' spiritual beliefs secret from their friends/friends' parents/school/community, and is this fair to them? What are the ramifications in terms of credibility as parents if your (entheogenic) spiritual practice were to become known to the wider community of parents, school faculty, employers, etc?

It is with these questions in mind that I would like to begin with my own story, right after the healing episode with the medicine I wrote about in  Blog #7.   As a true and typical Aries woman, I did what you might expect when confronted by a profound and life-changing event: I jumped in whole-heartedly, with both feet, and included my children and my spouse in every way.  Now, my kids, ages 13 (boy) and 9 (girl),  had already been introduced to the visiting shaman from Peru: since my then-husband made musical instruments, our musician friend, his translator, had brought him over to our place to check out a churango - Peruvian guitar - the day before the ceremony.  The shaman met my nine-year-old daughter, and (through the translator) told us," If she ever wants to come drink medicine, she is invited to come to a ceremony, any time."  I was a bit surprised, not being familiar with the Peruvian culture or the Shipibo medicine tradition, but assumed that in his tradition, kids were welcome to drink medicine if they wanted to.  (This is true, by the way.)  I also knew that he could see the beautiful light of my daughter's spirit, and knew that her presence would be a blessing to any ceremony.  (To be fair, my son also has a beautiful spirit, but he is just not oriented toward the spiritual/ceremonial/mystical realms, and I think that was as obvious to the shaman as it was to me!)

Anyway, a few days after my intense healing with the medicine, I invited my kids to a picnic lunch with me on our lawn.  We ate some food, and I told them I had something important to tell them.  They were curious.  I told them that the shaman who they had met at our house had led an ancient ceremony that I attended, during which we drank a special plant medicine that could help a person let go of things like old hurts and anger, sore spots on the inside, from your life, when you felt like things were unfair, or wrong, or when bad things happened and you couldn't do anything about it.  We generated some examples of these kinds of things (which sadly I don't remember after all these years.  It was a rich discussion, though!).  I told them I had been carrying some emotional things like that from when I was a kid and that as a result of the ceremonies I attended, I had been able to let go of a LOT of heavy feelings that had been keeping me down, making me feel sad and unhappy, and that I was going to be happier and be able to have more fun in life from then on.

I then talked to them about how in their teen years, it was very likely that their peers (and perhaps they as well) would become interested in experimenting with substances that change a person's normal way of looking at the world - their consciousness - such as alcohol, marijuana, and other substances called psychedelics.  My son already had friends who smoked pot, so he knew what I meant.  My daughter, not so much.  But basically I let them know that experimentation like this is normal, and that they didn't have to hide these behaviors from me.  I told them that this was not me encouraging them to use these substances, but just acknowledging  that it seems to be a normal teenage thing.  I don't believe in the 'abstinence'  model of "Just Say No," either in the realm of sex ed. or in addressing the use of substances.  I believe education and information are essential.  I knew from my own past that the lies I was told in the drug section of our Health Ed. class made me want to discount everything the adults said.  I discussed with my children the many reasons why people take and use substances, and encouraged them to really think, IF they were going to do something, WHY they were doing it, instead of just going along with the group.  In other words, to bring conscious attention to their actions.  (In retrospect, quite honestly I am not sure these talks had any positive impact on my children, at all.  I plan on asking them about this when we do the interviews.)

I also let them know that if substances called 'psychedelics' started being used by their friends, and if they wanted to try altering their consciousness within a traditional setting, with elders and within a really safe container, they would be allowed to come to a ceremony with me and take ayahuasca there.  Open invitation.

My daughter took me upon this invitation right before her thirteenth birthday.  She came to a night of ceremony that fall (2007) and has continued to attend on and off now for the past eight years (she will be 21 this fall).  It is apparent that she both gets a lot out of the ceremonies, the medicine, and the medicine community, and also that her interest in/need for ceremony goes in cycles or phases, as her attendance over the years has not been consistent.   My son has attended ceremony twice, at age 18 and age 23, both times 'doing it for his mom,' because he knows it means a lot to me.  He has no personal agenda or philosophy of working on himself or trying to be a better person, or healing, or anything of the sort.  He likes who he is and is content with the way things are, and so really doesn't see the need to do ceremonies to 'be better,' as my teacher likes to say (about the reason we drink the medicine).

So, now to address some of those questions from the beginning of this blog.

Obviously, in my life I have exercised my perceived right to include my children in my spiritual beliefs.  I had done so way before ever using ayahuasca or yagé - I had been taking my children to sweat lodges since they were born.  I do not believe that children should be 'indoctrinated' into spiritual beliefs, however.  I would never make a child get into a sweat lodge or drink medicine if they didn't want to.  I believe in talking things through with kids, somehow working to communicate within their level of understanding, and inviting them to decide what they want - allowing them the experience of asking their own intuition, of knowing that they possess an inner wisdom that can be accessed and understood - and trusting their own inner authority on the subject.  I believe curiosity is our birthright and natural state, and that it is safe to expose children to things and let them explore as their interests guide them.  This is the philosophy of Montessori schools, incidentally.

I am sure there will be people who read this who scoff and start in with the 'what if's' and 'no ways' and so forth.  All I can say is that sure, there are times when a parent has to be authoritarian, and decide FOR the child (ie: when you have to grab their arm and not let them cross the street in front of oncoming traffic).  But I am not talking about those instances.

I believe that it was not only OK to invite my children to participate in entheogenic ceremonies with me, but that it was essential, given the immense growth and transformation I have experienced on this path.  I could not have been in authentic relationship with them if I had been forced to keep this part of my life a secret.  I believe their exposure to this medicine tradition was gradual, safe, respectful, and that their own inner wisdom told them when they were ready for such an experience.  I know that I never put any pressure on either of them to participate in medicine ceremonies (although admittedly I HAVE done this with sweat lodges, especially with my son - but that's a different story).  I feel fortunate that neither of my children's' fathers objected (or would have objected, in the case of my son's deceased father) to this path, and so I did not have to worry about custody battles based on my use of a Schedule One controlled substance and the potential claim of 'unfit parent' such use would engender at a legal level.

I want to point out the obvious here - that I believe talking to our children with authenticity about who we are is absolutely essential.  This includes talking about the things we do that don't follow 'inside the box' thinking.  It helps to support our children to be their own authentic selves.  It helps us to get out of worrying about what others think of us and to live within our own moral and spiritual code, true to our known and directly experienced higher truths, not on some externally imposed set of rules (laws) founded on erroneous assumption, prejudices, and even outright deceit.  I am not advocating for anarchy here.  I am only talking about actions I take as an individual that only affect me and my own life, such as the choice to take a substance that our country and indeed most of the modern world has declared illegal and dangerous.  I am not a conspiracy theorist but I do think there is something to be said for the theory that these substances have been vilified for a reason that has to do with how we operate in the world - in blind acceptance of and within the system, or with the ability to critically examine the system and call out bullshit when we see it.  It makes sense that the powers that be would frown on - and actively restrict access to - things that promote the latter perspective.

But back to parenting and being authentic... or not.   I don't know how many Dead Heads (followers of the Grateful Dead) who took quantities of psychedelics as young people who, when they became parents, suddenly became quite conservative on the subject and would never even consider talking to their teens about their experiences with these drugs, or the spiritual openings they received as a result of their use.  "Too risky!" they would exclaim when questioned, or "I can't tell them how wild I was!" I guess I can understand the hesitation.  But I chose to be open - again to the level to which I felt my kids could relate - about my past and ongoing activities with illegal substances.  I shared with them not only the good and transcendental side of the story but also how dangerous and scary the experiences could be, and how important it is to be in a good place within yourself, with people you trust, in a setting that is safe if you are going to take something that alters your consciousness.  I also shared quite honestly with my kids that I would probably lose my job (at the time I was a public school teacher) if they gossiped about me to their friends or if the word somehow got out in the community that I had all this exposure to psychedelics in my past and present life.  AND I shared why I thought these substances are so judged and misunderstood.

It is possible that my being open like this led to my kids' being more interested in substances than they might have been otherwise.  There really is no way to tell at this point, although I plan on asking them when I get to their interviews.  However I doubt it.  I believe that they would have been exposed one way or the other, and that my contribution as their parent was to help them be more educated, informed, thoughtful, and aware of the potential benefits and dangers of the various substances (the ones I knew about!) with which they would come into contact as teens in today's world.  If I had to do it all over again I would have these same discussions with them. I think the downfall or faults in my parenting came from 1. being a single working mother and not being able to supervise them as much as two parents would have 2. wanting them to have a place (their home) where they could be safe if they were going to get 'altered,' instead of cruising around in a car, for example, and then having that safe space be taken advantage of, and 3. being a great mom, ie being loving, creating a beautiful home with healthy meals, modeling conscious communication, etc, but being a completely shitty dad, ie not being consistent with enforcing rules, not having dire enough consequences for bad behavior, not disciplining enough, not making them do more healthy things like sports, etc).  No one's perfect, and I have spent a lot of years feeling bad over my short-comings as a parent.  However I feel good about what I was able to offer my children in terms of the conversations we had about consciousness, psychedelics, medicines versus drugs, ceremony etc.  I think it has helped them to be more thoughtful and conscious people, and to make more conscious and informed choices. 

I know from talking to my daughter over the years that there were some challenges resulting from her choice (and my offer) to participate in entheogenic ceremonies as a teenager.  On the one hand, she had as an example a community of (primarily) adult seekers, all working to better themselves.  For the most part, and obviously hugely generalized, these individuals practiced honesty and conscious communication, took responsibility for their emotions (having an internal responsibility for the things that happened to them), and carried a basically positive outlook on life.  On the other hand, she went to public high school, with all of the assorted unconscious drama, judgment, bullying, stereotyping, shitty teen-parent relationships, dishonesty, distrust from adults, general unconsciousness, and more.  She told me it was extremely difficult and confusing to be straddling two completely different worlds, with different rules, behaviors, expectations and outcomes; and at the same time, she was glad to know the ceremonial world existed, despite the strain it put on her.   At the time I never considered that exposing her to the ceremonial world might make her life harder, and definitely felt more than a few moments of guilt when I realized it.  I don't know that I can answer the question 'is it fair?' to put her in that position, because I already did, somewhat in ignorance.  One of the reasons I am writing this section is to let other parents know that this could be an unintentional effect of bringing your child into the ceremonial world.  It could make things harder on your teen.  However if there is a parent or parents there to discuss what is happening, to help their teen integrate and process what they are experiencing in the two different worlds, then I think it could ultimately only be of benefit, even if painful at first to realize the normal extent of unconsciousness in our world/families/relationships.  One other side benefit of my daughter's participation in ceremony: she pretty much became the "Lucy" to her circle of friends (as in Peanuts: the "Doctor is IN"). Again, we can't say this wouldn't have been so without ceremony - there is now no way to know who she might have been without it.

Well, darn, out of time again!  It goes by so fast!!  I plan on posting some interview questions starting next week.  If you are reading this blog and you or someone you know would like to be interviewed for the book, please let me know.   And thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed!

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